A ‘state of limbo’. That’s what India’s Esports industry is facing after Krafton’s popular game Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) was pulled from the Google Play Store and App Store last week. Technically, the game has not been banned–it has only been pulled from stores due to an interim government order. And while those who have the game can still play it, for Esports companies and players whose livelihood depends on BGMI, the current situation is not ideal.
Industry executives that indianexpress.com spoke to noted that BGMI is what is largely driving revenues and viewership in the market. And the game getting banned in the future would have larger ramifications for the country’s nascent but rising Esports industry. BGMI recently crossed 100 million registered users in India in just over a year after its re-launch, a sign of the game’s popularity.
“BGMI accounted for a large percentage of the esports ecosystem in India, not just in terms of prize money but teams, players and the hundreds of support roles around it with media sites, video editors, streamers, tournaments organizers all being stuck in a state of limbo now. There was a lot of fantastic momentum for BGMI and Esports in India with mainstream visibility thanks to the combined efforts of Krafton and all ecosystem partners,” Ishaan Arya, co-founder and Head of Business Development at The Esports Club told indianexpress.com over email.
Other executives pointed out that for professional gamers who spend months training on a particular game such as BGMI, suddenly switching to another game is not so easy. Most executives agree that it takes months for these Esports players to perfect one game and picking up another game to play at a professional level is no mean feat.
“The most impacted people are professional players and tournament organisers. Content creators or streamers can switch to something else. They might experience a slight drop in viewership. But for players, it means they are sitting at home doing nothing. And companies are investing crores in these tournaments, which is a year-long calendar,” said Rohit Agarwal, Founder and Director at Alpha Zegus– a marketing agency specialising in the domains of gaming & lifestyle. In his view, the move creates uncertainty around gaming as a career as well.
More importantly, BGMI was driving revenue. “BGMI was the only game that was driving a lot of viewership. It also led to a lot of other brands entering the Esports space. We were speaking to a lot of brands after BGMI got an ad spot in IPL,” Rohit Jagasia, Founder and CEO at Revenant Esports told indianexpress.com. Revenant is an Esports company with players for BGMI and Call of Duty: Mobile. These teams compete in professional tournaments for pooled prize money.
According to Jagasia, while at Revenant they have diversified into other games such as Pokemon Unite and will be representing India at the world championships next month in London, BGMI was the one clearly driving revenue in a big way.
Esports executives also stressed the need for clarity on rules on what would get a game banned and what all compliances a publisher needs to have, in order to make sure these situations are not repeated. Some pointed out till the servers are taken down for BGMI, the uncertainty will remain and perhaps a redressal mechanism is needed to deal with these situations.
“There has always been a lot of ambiguity around games being banned, the right channels of communication and how/what a publisher needs to do to comply with various requirements,” Arya noted.
When asked whether they see any other game generating this kind of interest, executives noted that the only other option which came close after PUBG was banned in 2020 was Garena’s Free Fire. But then it met the same fate in February this year.
“Right now games like Apex Legends Mobile and potentially in the not-so-distant future the likes of Rainbow Six Siege Mobile and Valorant Mobile could be potential alternatives. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty around the current situation being temporary or long-term,” Arya said.
According to Agarwal, one option for players might be to switch to PUBG: New State, the other game from Krafton that has similar aesthetics to BGMI. Interestingly in India, the game has no ‘PUBG’ branding, and it is called simply ‘New State.’ Still, it has not taken off in the same way.
When asked whether Call of Duty: Mobile could take BGMI’s space, Jagasia said it was unlikely. He also pointed out that Krafton has made significant investments in the gaming ecosystem in India, close to $100 million.
While there’s no word on an official BGMI ban, the stalemate has created a void in India’s nascent gaming industry. For now, esports companies and players have nothing to do but wait.